Miami prosecutor probing MLK traffic incident as hate crime
MIAMI (AP) — A traffic incident in Miami involving a gun-wielding white man and a group of black bicyclists protesting housing inequality on Martin Luther King Day is being investigated as a possible hate crime, prosecutors said Tuesday.
State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a news release that she has ordered her hate crimes chief to look into Monday’s confrontation in the upscale Brickell section of Miami. The man with the gun, 51-year-old Mark Bartlett, has so far been charged only with illegally carrying a concealed weapon, which is a felony.
Video shot by bystanders and aired by numerous news outlets shows Bartlett swearing and hurling racial insults at the group of black cyclists, while keeping the gun at his side. A Miami police report says the cyclists blocked part of a major street to protest plans for a private development to displace affordable housing in the financially struggling Liberty City neighborhood.
“I am outraged at the reported acts depicted in the videos taken during this incident,” Fernandez Rundle said. “I am committed to filing the appropriate charges and to vigorously prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.”
Court records on Tuesday did not list an attorney for Bartlett.
In Miami, the Martin Luther King holiday is traditionally a time for young African-American men to ride dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles and bicycles throughout the area in an anti-violence effort known as “Wheels Up, Guns Down,” which takes its name from a Philadelphia protest over the death of a black biker several years ago.
They typically weave in and out of traffic at high speeds, pop wheelies, ride while standing on their seats and execute similar dangerous stunts on major highways. Every year, police make dozens of arrests and seize numerous vehicles, and this year was no exception.
The cyclists protesting housing inequality were an offshoot of that tradition, news outlets reported. An organizer of Monday’s protest did not return a phone call Tuesday.
Several videos from different perspectives were shot of the confrontation involving Bartlett. In one, an unidentified white woman is shown yelling at the cyclists to move because she has to go pick up her children, then screaming that one of them ran over her foot.
“You just touched me, you bunch of thugs,” she screams.
A few minutes later, a man in a pink T-shirt, whom police identified as Bartlett, walks up to the scene with his handgun at his side, yelling obscenities and racial epithets at the black cyclists. Police later arrested Bartlett on the weapons charge as he was driving a few miles from the scene.
According to the police report, Bartlett was incredulous at his detention.
“Why am I being arrested when those kids are free to ride around?” he asked. “I did pull out my gun. But I never pointed it at them.”
Later Tuesday, a truck equipped with large video screens on each side was seen driving up and down Brickell Avenue showing the confrontation. It wasn’t clear who was behind the display.
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